Last month I found myself smiling like a doofus at a link that my friend shared with me. The Internet had successfully “banished” Pitbull to the frigid northern lands of Kodiak, Alaska. In case you haven’t heard, the rap mogul and Will Smith pretender partnered with Wal-Mart and a product called Energy Sheets to deliver the type of inspired social media engagement plan that only an internationally ranked corporation and millions of marketing dollars could think of – a Facebook contest.

Fans were encouraged to “Like” their favorite local Wal-Mart store locations. Those stores with the most likes were promised the ultimate of prizes: a visit from the old ‘Bull himself.

Never one for letting an opportunity to poke fun at overtly cross-promotional vehicles slip away, those rascals over at Somethingawful took matters into their own hands. SA writer David Thorpe (@arr on Twitter) came up with the hilarious idea to send Pitbull to the most remote and desolate Wal-Mart location in the U.S. – the icy wasteland of Kodiak, Alaska. The Twitter campaign to “banish” Pitbull went viral and soon Kodiak’s store page was far and away the highest voted location with over 70,000 “Likes”. 

I have to give credit to Pitbull and Wal-Mart, as they both handled the hijacking of their campaign with a good sense of humor and they benefitted from the extra publicity. Pitbull even invited Thorpe to meet him in Kodiak, resulting in an awkward if not slightly heartwarming series of tweets. What started as an absurdist prank satirizing a stale marketing effort, ended with a narrative that had me giddy in my seat. I never thought I could care about Pitbull entering a Wal-Mart store so much.

The story made me think about what really gets people excited about brands online. Why should I, the consumer, care enough to invite the Coca-Colas and Targets of the world into my social networking circles? How can companies build compelling brand identities for their products without relying on cheap gimmicks and hollow social promotions?

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask, “Why?” 

Often it seems that marketing managers are so wrapped up in maintaining social media and SEO metrics that they forget to question what exactly they’re trying to accomplish with their online media campaigns. As long as they’re “engaging” the audience (yuck) with coupon codes, and utilizing every social media platform under the sun, they’re content with their brand’s online presence.

This is absolutely the wrong way to get people to care about your product, especially on anything more than just a superficial level. Do you think people are really checking for the aggregate scores of Facebook Likes or Retweets for furniture stores before they go out and buy a rug? Absolutely not.

The traditional marketing funnel is ancient history; companies need to do some serious soul searching before they decide which social platforms to utilize to promote their products online. When you chase whatever social technology is hottest at the time without questioning if it’s right for your brand, you’re missing the point of what social media is about: building relationships with the consumer. Technology changes and social networks fade away, but brand loyalty transcends and can last for decades. 

Have a Personality Dammit!

When you date someone, it’s hard to develop a true connection with that person when they are an all-encompassing bore. Sure the person is attractive, and maybe he or she gave you an exciting coupon code offer… ok, bad analogy. Anyway my point is that those same types of behaviors and idiosyncrasies that extend from real life relationships can also affect how people interact with brands online. If you treat your Twitter feed with the same stuffy corporate attitude you have in the office, nobody’s going to want to come to the company Christmas party.

I’m not saying this is an easy thing to accomplish. Some brands lend themselves to certain types of social platforms better than others. For instance, fans of entertainment brands like TV shows or record labels, are going to be more enticed by new announcements or conversations due to the way the product naturally energizes the fan base.

More mundane brands like cleaning products or fast food chains might have to work a bit harder, but there is still no excuse for marketers to phone it in. It might help to have someone who can actually create a clever dialogue and generate buzz outside of simply posting a wall of links. 


 Subtle, self-aware and hilarious; A+

Try Harder at Being Original

While I’m fascinated by advertising industry, I personally find myself avoiding ads as much as possible. I got rid of cable last year in favor of on-demand alternatives; I run ad-blocker on my browser and I refrain from looking up at the billboards on the expressway. I rely mostly on social networking, online reviews, and referrals from friends to turn me on to brands and products. While I might not represent the majority of people in the marketplace, there are a growing number of those like myself who are not participating in the way traditional ad impressions work. For this reason, it is very important for marketers to really try and make an effort to stand out from the clutter in the social media space.

One thing I’ve noticed is that brands like to try to make small talk with their followers. On paper, this sounds like a good idea. Chitchat humanizes the brand and starts a dialogue among its followers; the problem is in the execution. For the most part, nobody really wants to have a conversation with 7-11 about the Olympics, or whatever is in the news that day. It’s the digital equivalent of the stranger talking about the weather while in line at the bank. It’s cliché, and even a little obnoxious.

The same thing goes for other miscellaneous content, like images. Memes are great, but a meme isn’t funny or insightful just because you slap your brand’s product onto it. Jumping on an Internet bandwagon just because it’s popular is one of the mistakes many social media managers make. 

 Brands should instead focus on creating a consistent tone or narrative, and make status updates that stem from those core concepts. Old Spice, for example, does a really great job with this. 

It All Comes Back to Pitbull

As I opened Facebook to “Like” a specific Wal-Mart located over 5,000 miles away, I thought about the type of interaction I was contributing towards. Wal-Mart had never intended to attract the likes of me with their promotion. I can’t say I’ve ever cared about Pitbull or Energy Sheets in the first place. The fact that a simple prank was able to give this campaign the dramatic angle needed to go viral, highlights how uninspired & unmotivated brands are at implementing an effective social media presence. By creating a narrative, questioning your motivations, and having a personality, you are on the right track for making a brand identity that sticks, and truly connects with the audience.